Hilltops
Hartwick College's Student Newspaper

The View From Oyaron Hill

President and VPs Hear Student Concerns in Q&A Discussion

03.15.16

Joanne Georges


On Monday, March 7, students were invited to a Question & Answer session with the President and Vice Presidents of the college. For one hour in Slade Theater, students addressed concerns about student life, college advancement, and the general morale and well-being of Hartwick College. The Q&A was scheduled at the request of interested students, and was the result of piqued student concerns throughout the 2015-2016 academic year.


After introductions, Bean began the session by fielding the raised hands of students in the auditorium. While some concerns centered around the relationship between the campus budget, rising of tuition costs, underclassmen mandatory room and board, most of the students present reiterated concerns in four specific areas.


I. Pine Lake

First was the future of Pine Lake Environmental Campus and its current lack of staff. With only two members of staff – Erin Toal and Peter Blue – performing tasks formerly shared between four people, students said the Lake has lost its community investment and academic involvement. Tannenbaum spoke on behalf of the Lake’s academic usage: in 2014, Tannenbaum and a faculty committee planned to provide enough time for professors and students to travel between Pine Lake and campus without disrupting other class schedules. Since this effort proved futile, the committee couldn’t justify hiring new staff for Pine Lake.


Other students said Pine Lake’s infrastructure has been ignored and leaves little to be desired in a residential option. On behalf of Advancement, Fort said Phases 2 and 3 of the Pine Lake Challenge Grant have been successfully finished due to an anonymous donation of the remaining $200,000 for physical improvements. McGrath said these improvements will be advertised to first-years and gain appreciation to the Pine Lake experience. During Accepted Students Day, tables dedicated to Pine Lake and focusing on Challenge Education and Awakening programs will be placed first in the lineup of activities and department previews incoming students will see during the event.


In the end, Tannenbaum affirmed his and Hartwick’s commitment to using the resources Pine Lake has to offer. While there is no definite and potential option, Pine Lake will have its academic presence restored, he said.


II. Health and Housing

A complaint echoed by many of the students in attendance was The Commons’ lack of accommodation to student dietary restrictions and severe allergies. Senior sociology major Claudia Kass Lascola said the past four years have proved a struggle for her dietary needs, as she is deathly allergic to nuts, simple contamination could send her into anaphylactic shock. Despite having already requested of multiple people – from Commons workers to College administrators – to designate a place for allergy-laden foods, nothing has been done. Elsbeck defended The Commons’ progress by mentioning the new signs which list the ingredients in foods provided each day. Nearly in uniform, the audience began to disagree. Another student said the signs and the website don’t mention the more complicated allergens like gluten or nut oil.


In a separate interview, Lascola said the main problem isn’t the food being offered, but rather the proximity of the foods students with allergies can eat to the foods they can’t.

Drugovich, leaning forward in her seat, interjected with a question for Lascola: “Have you ever seen a dining hall with a better plan?”


Lascola and other students responded in the positive, and she gave an example of colleges with nutritionists who work closely with students and the kitchens for food preparation. The issue may be due to the lack of space in The Commons as well as the school’s inability to hire a nutritionist. However, the concern of administration seemed evident.


Another cause that created a reaction was the state of Hilltop residential hall. Students living in Hilltop have noticed a lack of awareness to water damage around the building. A water main break last semester – the fault of the City of Oneonta –resulted in water damage in dorm halls and buildings on campus. Hilltop’s chipping drywall, over flooding bathrooms, and falling ceiling plaster have not been rectified, students said. Administrators seemed surprised to hear of the issue at all. Elsbeck and Nowak said students should place work orders when situations like these occur or talk directly to Joe Mack, the Executive Facilities Director. Mack has “office hours” in the Yager Cafe on Monday at noon.


Finally, a striking coincidence occurred between three students. Nursing major Victoria Ost ’18, political science major Ambar Perez ’17, and biology major Salvator Schaper ’18 have all suffered a head injury resulting in a concussion. While all three turned out fine, their rehabilitation was hindered on their return to Hartwick from medical leave. Each student explained that returning to campus and resuming their studies was a constant battle in securing promised incompletes rather than fails in their courses, adjusting room displacements, and finalizing schedules. Ultimately, the whole process left them in worse shape and added stress. Immediately, Tannenbaum asked all three students to coordinate a meeting with him and apologized for the inconvenience and stress the whole ordeal caused them.


In an interview a day after the Q & A, Tannenbaum said he was looking forward to his meeting with the three concussion students. He wants students to know that if something really important arises they should not wait until a forum to bring it up. Still, he noted, when forums are available students realize their issues can be heard and shared.


III. Academic Program Review (APR)

In the fall of 2015, Provost Tannenbaum and President Drugovich’s review of academic programs resulted in the decision to add six new majors, the revision of several majors, and the elimination of three current majors. English and philosophy major Charlie Feher-Peiker ’17 was concerned about the specifics of what these changes would mean, and biology major Nickie Trudeau ’17 asked why and how the academic program review came to fruition.


Tannenbaum explained religious studies and philosophy will merge into a combined department, as they were as recently as 2010. This new combination will have five full-time faculty members and will hopefully still offer courses in ethics. The current faculty have been asked to consider this proposal and see if this arrangement will continue to deliver these majors effectively. If not, they can tweak/make accommodations as needed.


The proposal will combine English and modern languages into one department, and to elevate creative writing from a minor to a major. So Hartwick would have two tracks of English majors - a “literature” major and a creative writing major. In addition, the new English/Language Department will contain a new media studies major (possibly minor) that would be created from scratch and modeled after other institutions’ media studies departments. However, Tannenbaum ceded that upon further reflection, he and the President have decided that they will not force English to merge with Languages “if they do not want to.” Additionally, the English Department will separate from Theatre Arts.


Drugovich explained in June 2014 the Board of Trustees decided what programs they wanted to implement and how/what they would be willing to fund. “This [APR] has been a long running effort,” Drugovich said. She explained that “no one could have known” (in summer 2014 when these decisions were made a $26 million borrow funded the research) how small the incoming freshman class of 2015 was going to be.


However, the Board’s decision was not made through current student feedback or consulting. Drugovich said the board and administration looked at national and other trends, but didn’t specify whether they spoke with current students. Tannenbaum interjected saying that they looked at the applications of students coming into Hartwick over the past six to seven years, and analyzed trends among applications showing what programs incoming students were signing up for. Drugovich said that processes like Hartwick’s APR are happening at colleges all over the country.


IV. Morale among Students, Staff, and Faculty and General Controversy

Initially, student inquiry and concern became prevalent after the President and Board of Trustees’ decision to eliminate 18 staff positions in June 2015. A more recent wave of student concerns was due to a protest on February 19, in response to the Campus Safety interrogation of Hartwick senior Noah Jager, 22. Jager, who sent an anonymous email to the Board of Trustees during December 2015 and was questioned on the intent of his email describing student issues brought up in the Student Senate held forum, Hawks Talk. Since those latest occurrences, the question of school spirit, strength, and morale have been put to the test and students have discussed it among themselves and through social media forums. The opinion of administration was essentially unknown.


In attendance that night, Jager asked the administration what was their reaction to a Cooperstown article questioning the College’s reputation. Drugovich started by saying “I think that students want to be heard about the issues that concern you and we thought we had heard you, but in the past few months, it’s become clear that we haven’t been hearing enough.”


“It’s important to agree to disagree,” McGrath said. “The most important thing is to be civil, courteous, and show mutual respect.” Fort reminded students that no one in administration doesn’t want to communicate with students and they in fact appreciate face-face communication.


Political science major Brianna McKenzie ’16 contested this belief of easy communication between the VPs and students in a later interview. “I didn’t agree with the response from one of the VP’s that all the VP’s had open door policies…Some of the VP’s on that stage at times can come off as unapproachable and not easily accessible unless I have a problem/issue that warrants their immediate attention.”


But it doesn’t seem to be just the lack of information going around or the media coverage of the campus that is of student concern. Rather, as one student inquired, is there stress in those working as staff and faculty? The rumors of professors being forced to retire or refusing to speak out against what they deem poor decision making have been heard by students and administration before. 


In response, Drugovich said, “People don’t suffer retribution here.” Furthermore, rumors of forced retirement are not true, and there hasn’t been anyone who has lost their job as punishment. The 18 terminated positions over the summer made a lot of people feel uncertain, and Drugovich does recognize that.  


Finally, one of the more stand-out questions of the session was at the five-minute mark. A student asked President Drugovich for a definitive answer on whether the President’s salary was more than $400,000 a year. Drugovich responded with “yes.” When asked why she received the six-figure salary, the President explained, that despite being on the Board of Trustees, a small committee of Board members on the President’s smile. Additionally, Drugovich said the rumor of her recently receiving a $100,000 increase was false. The session was called to a conclusion before others questions could be asked. This particular inquiry about the President’s salary stems from the overall discomfort students (and other branches of the college) have felt since the layoffs last summer.


While those four concerns weren’t the only issues discussed during the Q&A, they were the most responsive issues. In fact many of them are in the works to be rectified and changed.


“Some concerns may take longer to address, and we may not always agree on what constitutes a final answer. Even so, I am confident that we will make progress on all of the issues raised,” Drugovich said in a later interview.


Still, some students didn’t leave the Q&A feeling so confident. In a later interview, accounting CPA and business administration major Addison Muller ’16 had mixed feelings about the discussion. For issues like how student organization boards would like to be consulted or contacted in administrative decisions, “It was a good space to have topics brought up but a direct answer wasn’t given. They weren’t excuses, but more rationalizing than a direct answer.”


Other students, such as biology and environmental studies major Lajoie Bradley ‘16, said some questions were meet with the same answers students heard before. She was referencing the questions about Pine Lake’s lack of staff and need of assistance. Bradley reasoned that some of the answers given from administration even sounded political.


“They’re listening but, they aren’t acting on what we’re telling them,” she said. “What students want is a plan of action, we don’t just want them to listen.”


Bradley went on to explain that it seems like prospective students are given more focus and the day-to-day problems of current students are ignored. “They should listen to students and what we actually love about this college…it will lead to more prospective students,” Bradley said, but “I think it’s good to have that discussion because we need that sort of transparency.”


President Drugovich’s final comments on the Q&A read, “As officers and VPs of the College, we take our responsibilities seriously…Keep talking to us. We live in a time where spontaneity is so highly prized that we take too little time to think together. Hartwick is a great place. We all want the College as strong as it can be, and a place that we can all be proud of. If we work from a place of openness, and bring all of our creativity to the discussion, Hartwick tomorrow will be more than we can imagine today.”